Tea Party-backed Christine O’Donnell won the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Delaware, becoming the latest insurgent candidate to overcome opposition from party officials who expressed doubt about her chances of winning the seat in November.
O’Donnell, who was endorsed last week by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, defeated U.S. Representative Mike Castle in today’s primary. With 100 percent of the vote counted, O’Donnell had 53 percent to Castle’s 47 percent, according to the Associated Press.
O’Donnell, 41, will face New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, 47, in the Nov. 2 election. He was unopposed for the Democratic Senate nomination.
When Castle, 71, was the frontrunner in the primary race, Republicans viewed Delaware as offering them a prime opportunity for picking up one of the 10 seats they need to claim a Senate majority. Delaware Republican Party Chairman Tom Ross said in an interview before today’s vote that an O’Donnell win would be a “complete train wreck” for the party. Ross also has said she wouldn’t be “a viable candidate to win any office in the state.”
Following O’Donnell’s win, the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report changed its ranking of the Senate race to “lean Democrat” from “lean Republican.”
Stuart Rothenberg, the report’s editor and publisher, said O’Donnell’s “upset” primary victory “dramatically alters Republican prospects for November in Delaware.” He said that “lacking an impressive resume and unlikely to garner significant national Republican support, O’Donnell clearly looks like an underdog” against Coons.
O’Donnell thanked “the Tea Party Express” for its support as she claimed victory tonight. “We have an army of volunteers who are committed to a cause greater than themselves,” O’Donnell told her supporters. “The cause is restoring America.”
She also said, “We the people will have our voice heard in Washington, D.C., once again.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee aided Castle. Rob Jesmer, the committee’s executive director issued a one- sentence statement congratulating O’Donnell for winning the nomination “after a hard-fought primary campaign.”
Castle reacted to the results by telling supporters, “The voters in the Republican primary have spoken, and I respect that decision.”
A marketing consultant, O’Donnell opposes abortion rights and President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul and has pledged to work to cut federal spending. Her support for gun rights won her the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
On her website, O’Donnell says jobs are created when “businesses are freed from endless taxes and bureaucratic red tape.”
She says terrorism is an act of war that requires the full force of the nation’s intelligence and military resources, “rather than granting terrorists precious Constitution rights and outsourcing our foreign policy” to the United Nations.
O’Donnell has no steady income or savings and owns no property, the Wilmington News Journal reported, citing public records. In 2009, she reported income of $5,800, the paper said.
O’Donnell came to Delaware in 2003 to work for a printing company and was fired in 2004, according to the paper. The company alleged she was using its resources to run a side business, the News Journal reported. O’Donnell sued for gender discrimination and wrongful termination and later dropped the case, saying she couldn’t afford the legal fees, the paper reported.
Democratic officials said O’Donnell’s win improves their chances of holding onto the seat.
“Delaware Republicans chose an ultra-right wing extremist who is out of step with Delaware values,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement tonight. “Christine O’Donnell cares more about imposing an extreme social doctrine than addressing the challenges facing working people.”
The Delaware Senate seat was held by Vice President Joseph Biden for 36 years before he turned it over to Democrat Ted Kaufman, a former aide who declined to run this year.
O’Donnell was Biden’s Republican Senate challenger in 2008, the election in which he also won the vice presidency. Biden won the Senate race, 65 percent to 35 percent, and shortly after resigned the seat.
In 2006, O’Donnell finished last in a three-way Republican Senate primary. Democrat Tom Carper won a second term in that year’s general election.
O’Donnell’s win today follows the victory last month by Joe Miller, another Republican backed by Palin and Tea Party activists who promote limited government spending, over incumbent Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s Senate primary.
Earlier, Tea Party-supported challengers upended candidates endorsed by Republican officeholders in primaries in Kentucky and Nevada. And in Utah, party activists denied renomination to Senator Bob Bennett, who was seeking a fourth term.
The Republican national and state officials lining up behind Castle touted him as the candidate with the best chance of winning the Senate seat in a state President Barack Obama won with 62 percent of the vote two years ago.
O’Donnell gained ground as the campaign proceeded by criticizing Castle for his willingness to support Democratic initiatives in Congress.
Castle, who first won his House seat in 1992, backed the 2008 federal bailout for Wall Street, supported legislation that extended hate-crime protections to gays and was one of only eight House Republicans who last year voted for the Democrats’ cap-and-trade plan designed to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. That measure stalled in the Senate.
Democrats currently control the 100-member Senate with 59 votes.
Delaware was one of seven states, along with the District of Columbia, holding primaries today in what is the last major round of nomination contests this year.